Now that Shawn Matthias has gotten a taste of the good life with the Florida Panthers, he's determined to return on a full-time basis this season.
In just his second of four NHL games with Florida last season, Matthias, a center, scored a pair of goals while earning 25 shifts on a line with then-Florida captain Olli Jokinen. Despite the fact his team suffered a 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals, Matthias made an impression and was named third star of the game.
Now, the 20-year-old Matthias, who played a part in Team Canada's gold-medal winning performance at the 2008 World Junior Championships with three goals and one assist, is prepared to do whatever it takes to earn a spot with the big club.
"Just having the chance to play, meet the guys and talk to them, was outstanding (last season)," Matthias told NHL.com. "It was a great experience to see what the NHL was all about and now that I know what to expect, I'll prepare for it. I'll work hard at training camp because I know how fun it is to be an NHL hockey player. Even though I only spent a week with the team, it was the best time of my life. I really want to try to make the team and stick with them the whole year right out of camp."
Matthias, drafted in 2006 by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (No. 47), was acquired by Florida, along with two conditional draft picks, for forward Todd Bertuzzi on Feb. 27, 2007.
"Being such a young guy, I didn't know what to think of (the trade) at first," Matthias said. "I wasn't really sure if it was a good or bad thing, but Florida welcomed me with open arms and it's been absolutely great to be a part of this organization. So, I think it's worked out for the best."
Matthias is coming off two productive seasons with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. After posting a modest 13 goals and 34 points in 67 games during his second season with the club, Matthias scored 38 goals and 73 points through 64 games in 2006-07. He followed with a career-high 79 points, including 32 goals, in 53 appearances this past season before earning his cup of coffee with Florida.
"I started working out in private gyms, strictly for hockey," Matthias said. "I got into much better shape and began working a lot with the coaches at Belleville. (Coach) George Burnett and (assistant) Jake Grimes did a great job in my four years with the team. Jake showed me all the tricks on how to become a better player and better offensive threat."
Grimes, who was drafted and signed by the Ottawa Senators in 1992, is no stranger to training future NHL prospects. In two seasons as coach of Ontario's Strathroy Rockets Jr. B team, he worked with current Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter. Carter would embark on a successful OHL career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before beginning a successful NHL career with the Flyers.
"(Grimes) was a former forward for Belleville (from 1989 to 1992) and was drafted so I listened to every word," Matthias said. "He just showed me how to use my big body by driving to the net and cutting into the lanes to get opportunities. I'll be working with him again in preparation for camp. He knows what it's like to be a pro."
“We feel Shawn will make an impact in Florida in the near future. He's been very successful in junior hockey and is now ready to take the next step to professional hockey. He is a high-character individual who fits perfectly into what we look for in a Panthers' player.”
-- Florida Panthers GM, Jacques Martin
"You want to be a plus player to show that you're not being scored on," Matthias said. "Early on, I was a second-tier player matched up against top guys on the other team and I just didn't have the numbers against them. But I've become a plus player on the top line the last two seasons. I enjoy going up against the top players because it obviously brings out the best in you. Even though it makes the game a little bit harder, it will help you become a better player in the long run."
Florida General Manager Jacques Martin, who signed Matthias to an entry-level contract in 2007, realizes the potential in the Mississauga, Ontario, native.
"We feel Shawn will make an impact in Florida in the near future," Martin said after signing Matthias to his first professional contract. "He's been very successful in junior hockey and is now ready to take the next step to professional hockey. He is a high-character individual who fits perfectly into what we look for in a Panthers' player."
In addition to his success at center, Matthias can also alternate on either wing.
"I played wing a lot at Belleville and received plenty of help in learning the position," Matthias said. "It's obviously a new element and it's just a matter of getting comfortable. It definitely helped broaden my game, because by playing wing, I learned how to make those quick adjustments by getting the puck off the boards. Being able to retrieve the puck from the defenseman and chip it out or make a play at center ice are all critical to playing wing. Playing the position is something I still need to work at, but feel I'm learning more every day."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.